Fixed-center steering wheels, in which the hub doesn't rotate when the driver turns the wheel, such as that in the Citroen C4, are winning some interest among European auto makers.

That's because they allow an asymmetric driver's airbag that offers better protection than a more conventional circular bag. “An asymmetric bag could reduce injuries 20%,” says Mehrane Khazami, director of engineering for steering wheel and driver airbags at TRW Automotive in Aschafenburg, Germany.

For unbelted drivers in a 30-degree frontal offset crash, an asymmetric bag covering the A-pillar as well as the steering wheel would cut injuries by 60%, he adds.

TRW Automotive has yet to sell OEMs on its version of a fixed-center steering wheel, and Autoliv Inc., which supplies the C4, doesn't yet have any other production-vehicle contracts.

However, both suppliers expect to see a moderate uptake of the idea. TRW began working on fixed-centered steering six or seven years ago, Khazami says. TRW and Autoliv say Renault SA, Saab Automobile, Volvo Cars, DaimlerChrysler AG and BMW AG all have expressed interest.